Paul's Passing Thoughts

The History of Western Philosophy and Its Societal Impact on the Church – Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on February 3, 2017

The following is part three of an eight-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2013 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part four
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight

We have been discussing the major contributors in the progression of Western thought. Many concepts and doctrines that we have traditionally come to think of as Biblical orthodoxy in reality have their roots in ancient philosophies. Here is a brief summary of the thinkers and their contribution that we studied in part two:

Thales – The first scientific approach to explaining reality as opposed to a pantheistic approah. The concept of one universal “stuff” and its various forms.

Heraclitus – Because everything is in a constant state of “flux”, man is unable understand the nature of reality. The first to introduce a division of reality. Two “realms”.

Parmenides – Precursor to Aristotle’s “Law’s of Identity” and existence. Existence is real, but change is not. Change is only apparent because of man’s faulty perception.

This brings us to part three, and we will pick up where we left off.

 

Zeno
I want to address Zeno and his paradoxes, because they are very commonly used as proofs of Parmenides’ philosophy. Zeno was a disciple of Parmenides. He continued the arguments against Heraclitean thought. His goal was to prove that movement was an illusion and plurality and change was impossible. His proofs are said to support Parmenides’ conclusions. Here is his most famous paradox.

The Dichotomy Paradox: “That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal.” – as recounted by Aristotle, Physics

This is basically the endless half-life of infinity. The theory is that you can’t ever cross a room, because in order to do so you must first cross half, and then must cross half of that, and so on, to the point where you could never actually arrive at your destination, and in this way, motion does not really exist. It is an illusion. Zeno is using this paradox to deny the implications of change.

Now you can see the utter quagmire that western thought is in. Now mind you, this is a monstrous step up from the rest of the world that is still under the tyranny of pantheism and the endless cycle of man is nothing more than a cog in the wheel of life-birth-death-life-birth-death. The developments these men are making are light-years forward in comparison to everybody else.

 

The Pythagoreans
The Pythagoreans represent a school of thought that is unique from both Thales and Heraclitus. They have an impact on western thought that persists throughout most of the rest of the timeline that we are going to cover. They are important because we are talking about a school of thought that has almost 500 years to develop before the onset of Christianity onto the scene. Pay close attention, because I am confident that you will find the Pythagoreans disconcerting.

When one talks about Pythagoras it is usually in reference to the school that he founded. While we know almost nothing about Pythagoras specifically, what we do know comes from a whole scope of literature that came out of the school and from writers like Parmenides, Aristotle, and others.

Please make a note: the Pythagoreans profoundly impacted Plato. This is the root source of the majority of Plato’s ideology. Again, this will become apparent later as we move on.

Most of you have probably heard of the Pythagorean Theorem, a2 + b2 = c2. It is most often attributed to Pythagoras, but it was most likely a product of someone else within the sect. It was a communistic, religious school, and many people contributed to the school’s intellectual content. While this equation and many other mathematical proofs are attributed to Pythagoras, it is more accurate to understand that intellectual movement was substantially beyond its founder.

Their claim to fame is primarily rooted in their extraordinary work in mathematics, music, and astronomy. Scholars talk of early, middle, and late Pythagoreans, but for our purposes, these distinctions don’t matter much because as you will see their influence continues to this day.

The Pythagoreans celebrate sunrise.

In contrast to the previous thinkers I have discussed there is one crucial distinction I want to make. This group was a part of the Orphic mystery religions, meaning that the previous thinkers were secular by comparative standards. While we would call Plato a pantheist, the fact of the matter is, by comparison he was agnostic at best.

Editorial Note: The following link will provide some insight into the tenets of the Orphism.
https://campus.aynrand.org/campus/globals/transcripts/pythagoras-mathematics-and-the-mysticism
Here is an excerpt just to give you an idea:

“Man has two parts, a high part and a low part. The low part is the body, the high part the soul. These two are in eternal conflict with each other. The soul is akin to God, to another dimension. Once, it was a god-like creature, inhabiting another, superior, spiritual world. But it sinned. And the result was it fell from grace. And as punishment was included in the body on this earth. The body is therefore the prison, the tomb of the soul. And we are destined, each of us, to go through a series of “reincarnations”. At the end of our earthly span, our soul goes back to the other world, and it gets the appropriate reward or punishment (depending upon its behavior), and then it comes around again, what they call the “wheel of birth.” Sometimes it comes up in another human body, sometimes in an animal body. It lives out its cycle…until…the soul can escape from this body and earth permanently, reunite once and for all with God, and thereby achieve true happiness and salvation…

“How do you [get to it]?…purification…you have to live a good life…an ascetic life…[but] the Pythagoreans at their most ascetic are frenzied hedonists in comparison to the Christians that are yet to come…”

This is the roots of gnosticism that would take hold in the first and second centuries. We have a mystery religion, man in a flesh body that is functionally depraved needing some form of enlightenment that is given to him by the gods, enlightenment that is unique to a select few. This is where it starts.

They said failure to live a pure life brought punishments after death in the lower plains of the underworld. Harmony is divine. Disharmony is material and flesh. And now you can see why they arrived at a duality of existence.   Their religious worldview led them to conceptualize two different states, but they didn’t leave it there. The Pythagoreans identified three kinds of men:

  • Theoretic – The lowest class of man; a crass materialist; committed only to material gain and the preoccupation with his fleshly life.
  • Practical – Comes seeking to participate in enlightened action; wants higher virtues; still physically working to attain those values.
  • Apolistic – The highest class; those who simply look at life; exists in pure contemplation; the philosopher who contemplates science and mathematics who is released from the cycle of birth; a root desire to free oneself from the flesh

Freeing oneself from the flesh became the ethical ideal. Not only did they conceptualize two worlds, but they added the concept of a fundamental depravity of human existence. Heraclitus and Parmenides assumed that man’s senses were suspect, but it wasn’t a metaphysical corruption. The Pythagoreans’ notion of depravity goes beyond a mere inability, it makes man depraved as a function of his physical existence. Because he is material he is necessarily depraved.

So the question is, if they were a mystic sect, why would they become so dominant? Throughout history there have been many mystery religions, most of which you will never know even existed. By definition the mystery dies with the last follower who knew the secret. But the Pythagoreans sustained mystical influence because their advances in science were so compelling. Words fail when trying to describe the Pythagorean impact on music, math, and science. Their work in mathematics and astronomy makes possible men such as Kepler, Newton, and Einstein. We don’t get to the moon without the Pythagoreans. Without their foundation, physics would be impossible. So their mystical metaphysical worldview piggybacked into subsequent generations of thinkers because of the power of their contributions to the physical sciences.

This should not really be any surprise. Frankly, Christians do this sort of thing all the time. How many times do we presume that if a person has one crucial thing correct that he must have the authority to have everything else correct? As a result we accept, rather uncritically, whatever comes out of the preacher’s mouth. How could C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, John MacArthur, et al, ever get to where they are without this presumption?

Here is the introduction of the soul/body dichotomy into western thought. It is the origin for Martin Luther’s cross story/glory story, Augustine’s “original sin”, and Plato’s two realm idea that requires a philosopher king to bring enlightenment to the incompetent masses. The conclusions of such ideas always result in the dividing of humanity into classes. As we move forward into the development of Western thought, this division is almost never challenged. It becomes the dominant theme in Christianity almost from the outset.

 

The Atomists
Up to this point the progression of thought has been a-systematic, meaning there has been no systematic approach to the nature of things. There has been some tossing around of ideas back and forth, but this begins to change with the Atomists. For the first time, thinkers tried to develop a whole approach to primary philosophical questions, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics.

Like everyone else before them, the Atomists are trying to reconcile Thales and Heraclitus. They were materialists, meaning that reality is matter in motion. Everything, including non-material and mental phenomena is explained entirely in physical material terms. They were pluralists. Instead of one universal “stuff”, as Thales proposed, there are many “stuffs”. Each “stuff” is unchangeable. This would serve to satisfy Parmenides assertion that everything is unchangeable and indestructible. The smallest unit of these universal “stuffs” is the only thing that can move or change, which of course satisfies Heraclitus.

This has a serious flaw because, after all, we’re looking for a one-world substance that integrates everything and explains change. The Atomist’s explanation makes everything you see, taste, touch, smell, and hear have to contain its own unique “stuff”. The world would then collapse on itself for the sheer weight of things, and man would be lost in a blindingly chaotic world.

So the Atomists decided that all physical things have two parts: qualitative characteristics, and quantitative characteristics. This evolution of thought gave them the ability to sub-divide qualities (colors, smells, sounds) versus quantities (number, length, motion). It was pretty ingenious. It gave them the ability to categorize some things and not others. By removing quantities from consideration they were able to reduce the number of “stuffs” needed to explain the universal “stuff”. But they still needed to reconcile their ideas with Parmenides. They had a solution to absolutes, but now they had to figure out what to do with flux.

The solution to this was the question, “Are qualities real?”

The logic went like this. When a man smells, is he smelling something real or is his nose playing tricks on him? The simple answer is, no, it is not real, because “smell” is a quality based on man’s nose, and the easiest way to address quality was to conclude that nothing was real. Qualities are merely the way “stuff” affects man.

Once again, the conclusion is that man’s faculties are the problem.

But the conclusion begs the question: if there are no qualities, then how do these things operate? The answer was that the motion seen is from the physical pressure, the impact of the universal “stuff” against other universal “stuff”. This mental model formed the basis for what we now call “atoms”, but they were applying a mechanical model to the discipline of metaphysics.

Can you guess what this means?

If you have everything metaphysical acting mechanically what you end up with is an endless stream of causation. And since man is made up of the same universal “stuff”, this leaves man without independent will. He is simply a product of mechanical forces outside of his control. This is the foundation of determinism, and this is the concept that the Atomists introduced into Western though. The entire scope of Atomists’ philosophy doesn’t affect Christianity as a whole, but this one concept of determinism did. This concept is what influenced St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others to come.

To be continued…


Click here for part one
Click here for part two
Click here for part four
Click here for part five
Click here for part six
Click here for part seven
Click here for part eight
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16 Responses

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  1. John said, on February 3, 2017 at 4:20 PM

    John Immel,

    Another great and very enlightening part of this series. My brain is getting used to critical thinking, bit by bit.

    It is interesting to note that the false teachers C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, and John MacArthur are grouped together, as are Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. That birds-of-a-feather-bamboozle-together thing really is true, ain’t it?

    Of course, just because MacArthur speaks out against abortion or Jesus dolls or smiles as he lies does not mean is an authority on any other thing. Even my atheist neigbor speaks out against them unborn baby murders and with more passion.

    In fact, I get gooseflesh (like when two ghosts are pulling each other’s fingers over your supposed grave) when I listen to the way MacArthur lies with authority and conviction. And, oh boy, does he make up stuff! But his disciples swallow his nonsense because he is a modern mystic and KNOWS things. And he looks right at the video cam at the right time and then waits for applause so humbly…

    Determinism is a fishhook (a lovely old treble hook) that has gone through the tender flesh of your thumb: It’s going to hurt however you deal with it. Simply look at your depressed Calvinist/Reformed friends to see how determinism has manifested, unnecessarily. And how it’s a-hurtin’ them.

    Reincarnation is a big hit with my Hindu neighbors (across the corridor, not on the atheist’s side). I told them it’s really making a huge comeback. So they took back their tasty samosas.

    And to think God gave Pythagoras his mental faculties, and then many centuries later in a nondescript trigonometry class, I sweated and faked an amputation of my right hand because I had been asked to calculate Pi using Pythagoras’ theorem. That’s why I changed to English, and by the next day, my hand had miraculously grown back. Praise Pi.

    Blessings to ya all, my sisters and brothers in Christ. You are all doing wonderful and important work. And I always appreciate it.

    Like

    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on February 3, 2017 at 4:38 PM

      John,

      Thank you again, as always, for your kind words, wonderful insights, and thoughtful comments!

      Like

      • John said, on February 3, 2017 at 4:48 PM

        Thanks, Andy. The articles are thought-provoking, and that is brilliant. I have always suspected that Calvinism did not fall out of the sky and crash-landed in Arizona, so all these fascinating backstories, so well linked together and presented and researched by J. Immel, make more than just sense. They make it exciting and what;s more…it is the truth.

        Like

      • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on February 3, 2017 at 11:37 PM

        John,

        I sincerely believe it is vitally important for all believers to understand this progression of thought and where these ideas originated; dualism, the depravity of man, the soul/body dichotomy, determinism. Now take all of this and throw into the mix the idea that man (unregenerate man) when he sins doesn’t really sin, because his soul is spirit and spirit doesn’t really sin, he only sins in his flesh (this would be an extension of the soul/body dichotomy construct). So then man can live however he wants and it won’t matter because his soul is still sinless.

        Now assume someone takes this teaching and tries to incorporate it into the Apostle’s doctrine in the late 1st century, and given this context you now have a better understanding of what the apostle John was railing against in 1 John 1:8 when he said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In fact the whole passage is a series of contrasting hypothetical arguments against this kind of gnosticism that was trying to gain a foothold in Christianity.

        If (hypothetically) we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
        BUT
        if (hypothetically) we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

        If(hypothetically) we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
        BUT
        If (hypothetically) we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

        If (hypothetically) we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
        That last statement is a final summarizing argument against this enhanced soul/body dichotomy gnostic teaching; If anyone says man doesn’t really sin (because his soul is spirit) that person is a false teacher.

        Such an understanding of that context removes once and for all any perceived contradiction between 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 3:9, because the first is talking about a gnostic metaphysical perception of man, and the second is talking about the reality of the New Birth!

        Like

      • John said, on February 4, 2017 at 9:42 AM

        In John 18:38, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Well, what kind of worldview/philosophical mindset did Pilate have? Was his “truth” based on the disconcerting views as expressed by some the philosophers in John Immel’s article? Who were his influences? In the verses prior, Jesus explained that His kingdom was about truth, not swords and weapons, The truth Jesus was alluding to was the truth about God, about Jesus Christ himself, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation.

        I am not sure if Pilate was just being sarcastic by asking, “What is truth?” Was he confused? Intrigued? Was he trying to be a super cool philosopher? (sans the torn jeans, the tight torn jeans; the snobby coffee in hand, the silly hipster spectacles, the fluff on the chin, the elitist attitude, the media-induced mannerisms, the fashion-following ugly shirts, etc.), I don’t know. What I do know is that the Truth Incarnate, Jesus Christ, was there in front of and Pilate and he did not recognize him. How much different is that from today’s world? Not much, I’m afraid. People are still running and worshiping their own philosophers (the MacArthurs, Pipers, Sprouls, Johnsons, Calvins, Luthers, Pinks, and the whole list of false teachers) while Jesus is here; still the same, still the Truth, still in front of them, and yet people choose not to follow or believe in Him…but to follow fallen men. How tragic.

        These philosophers lived before Jesus Christ’s incarnation: Thales, Pythagoras, Confucius, Zeno, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, And Philo was alive at the time Jesus was on earth. I believe that Pilate must have been influenced by at least some of them, by the whole Hellenic thing, most probably. The parallels to today’s time are astonishing.

        And the Apostles’ work was hard, as they had to counter and contend with all that nonsense while bringing an incredible message of salvation which now included Gentiles. I can imagine that many of the Christian gatherings had converts who carried heavy philosophical baggage, which they needed to address and shed.

        Gnosticism started in Jesus’ time, right? And after He’d ascended, it exploded, and that tells me that the power of the true Gospel is stronger than all these notions, including the biggest lie of them all, the Reformation, which was as much “an act of God” or “unleashed by God” as I am a rubber ball that may or may not exist sometimes. Or one that occasionally bounces by itself.

        I am looking forward to the next installment in John Immel’s series. I think I can handle it. My brain has been expanding lately…

        Like

    • johnimmel said, on February 4, 2017 at 1:40 PM

      Hey John…

      Sorry to come late to this conversation. I didn’t realize Andy was posting this.

      ” C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, and John MacArthur are grouped together, as are Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.”

      The reason they cluster together is because they all share common philosophical roots, which is the point of my 2013 lectures. I was trying to explain that western thought is a whole intellectual picture. Christians tend to think that ideas magically spring from the mind of God into the minds of people fully formed. They go to church in the 21st century and think that they are the only ones to ever think . . . . their preacher is the only one to ever say profound things. The reality is very different.

      The roots of western thought go back thousands of years and the ideas follow a specific progression. once you learn to identify the progression it becomes trivially simple to understand that Mahaney and Piper and MacArthur are third rate thinkers ripping off pagan philosophers.

      Like

      • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on February 4, 2017 at 1:45 PM

        “Mahaney and Piper and MacArthur are third rate thinkers ripping off pagan philosophers.”

        Such an appropriate way to put it! Love it!

        Like

      • John said, on February 5, 2017 at 3:24 AM

        I was pleased to see them grouped together, John. MacArthur and his deceiving pals and their Calvinist gods have and had all been to the same poisoned well.

        Like

  2. John Smith said, on February 4, 2017 at 1:34 AM

    But isn’t the real starting point of the churchianity heresy that everything is about getting saved and only that matters? I’m thinking the real place to look for the root cause of the problem is the split between the Sadducees and Pharisees, i.e. recognizing that God rewards and punishes in this life (like in Proverbs, and really all throughout the Old Testament) vs deferring everything to a future world (the invention of the Pharisees, perhaps borrowed from Babylonian paganism).

    Like

    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on February 4, 2017 at 1:17 PM

      All of what you said is still a symptom of the problem. It goes back farther than that. The problem isn’t theological, it is philosophical, and that is the point of what John Immel is teaching us in this series. It goes back to metaphysics and the question, what is the nature of existence and what is the nature of man? Notice that in every philosophy the assumption about man is that he is either flawed or metaphysically evil, and the resulting conclusions of those assumptions are always the same! You do not get to the Pharisees and Sadducees without first having this root assuption.

      Like

    • johnimmel said, on February 4, 2017 at 1:49 PM

      No, the starting point of Christian error is its wholesale adoption of the Pythagorean soul/body dichotomy. I address this very thing in the next couple lectures . . . whenever Andy gets those posted

      Pharisee and Sadducee doctrine is a theological development that emerges after the Exile and refines during the period of the Maccabees. (circa 150 BC) But neither of these theological movements are ever a large enough intellectual tradition to really impacted historical western thought.

      Pharisaic doctrine largely vanishes into the diaspora through the first century and there is no resurgent Sadduceean intellectual movement. Their doctrine died when the temple was destroyed circa 70 AD because the Sadducees were an elitists upper class social movement that existed as patrons to the temple practice. No temple . . . no Sadducees.

      Like

  3. lydia00 said, on February 4, 2017 at 3:22 PM

    “Reincarnation is a big hit with my Hindu neighbors (across the corridor, not on the atheist’s side). I told them it’s really making a huge comeback. So they took back their tasty samosas.”

    My teen is addicted to samosas from years ago playing with a little Indian girl down the street. That was the snack the grandmother made incessantly. Now we can hardly find them to keep on hand except Indian restaurants. As my teen said, we need a samosa dealer. Anyone know where to buy them frozen in bulk?

    I have been listening to Ancients Prof Paula Fredriksen on you tube. She spends a lot of time on the whole “motion” thing and gods. A big important God was never in motion…but lower gods were.and so on. In her talk on Augustine and the Jews, she was explaining how much Greek thinking had permeated Jewish diaspora thinking. I am not sure I agree with her about Augustine being pro Jew but she make the connection of Augustine believing Judaism as the bridge to Christianity. She bases this on Augustines book responding to Faustus.

    All I know is that when we take the mass of pagan influence into consideration as the backdrop to scripture, it sure reads differently.

    Like

  4. lydia00 said, on February 4, 2017 at 3:30 PM

    “Pharisaic doctrine largely vanishes into the diaspora through the first century and there is no resurgent Sadduceean intellectual movement. Their doctrine died when the temple was destroyed circa 70 AD because the Sadducees were an elitists upper class social movement that existed as patrons to the temple practice. No temple . . . no Sadducees.”

    Bingo! And the error continues as masses of Christians blame what they view as “legalism” on the Pharisees influence. That is one place I think Prof Fredriksen makes a error is in claiming a lasting influence of the temple well into the 3-5th centuries by the diaspora.

    Like

  5. lydia00 said, on February 4, 2017 at 4:04 PM

    “This should not really be any surprise. Frankly, Christians do this sort of thing all the time. How many times do we presume that if a person has one crucial thing correct that he must have the authority to have everything else correct? As a result we accept, rather uncritically, whatever comes out of the preacher’s mouth. How could C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, John MacArthur, et al, ever get to where they are without this presumption?”

    Yes, yes, yes. I see this everywhere. I am thinking of one horrible example now that is taking the abuse survivor people down a hellish path.

    Like

    • John said, on February 5, 2017 at 5:48 AM

      And has been for a while, Lydia. Abuse, spiritual, emotional, sexual, and the subsequent abuse of the survivor (if that lucky) has been commonplace in this particular mentally sick movement a long, long time.

      Like

  6. lydia00 said, on February 4, 2017 at 4:07 PM

    I want to also add that I have a kid in an AP magnet school where two years of secular English teachers have gushed over Plato and promoted his theories as brilliance. Many writing assignments are geared toward promoting his theories. This stuff is not just church. I was astonished.

    Like


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